‘The Law of God is very near you,’ said Moses. (Deuteronomy 30:14)
In the gospel, we read about a learned discussion. ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life,’ a scholar asked the Lord Jesus.
If the young scholar had asked me, I would probably have found myself tempted to give a long discourse and show how much I know. ‘Well, what an interesting question! As you know, “eternal life” does not exactly appear as a fully developed concept in the Law of Moses. We have to turn to the books of the prophets… If we study the wisdom literature and the historical books… Blah blah blah.’ I would probably answer the young scholar with Blah blah blah.
But the Lord Jesus simply said, ‘What do you think, son? What do you say about how we inherit eternal life?’
With this simple answer, the Lord echoed Moses. ‘You know what? The Law of God is very near you. It’s not up in the sky. It’s not across the sea. You already have it, right there with you.’
‘So what do you read, scholar? How do we inherit eternal life?’
Love. We inherit eternal life by loving. Love, and do what you will.
Amen. Simple. We’re done.
But the young man could not hold still. He could not remain silent in the face of such utter simplicity, such divine simplicity.
Again, I would probably do the same. More blah blah blah.
‘Yes, teacher. I see that we are of one mind. So of course you see, as well, that we need to do some more analysis. We have to define our terms. The word ‘love’ admits of divergent interpretations. So does the word ‘God,’ for that matter. And who really knows who his neighbor is, anyway?’
Two weeks ago we talked about the antagonism between Jew and Samaritan. Because Jews and Samaritans shared so much, because their histories were so closely linked, the few things upon which they disagreed made them hate each other with the bitterest venom.
During the Lord Jesus’ lifetime, the Samaritans showed their affection for their neighbors the Jews by rushing the Temple in Jerusalem and littering its precincts with human bones. They intentionally defiled the Jews’ holy place in the most insulting manner possible.
So: When we are talking about the antipathy between Samaritan and Jew, we are dealing with the kind of nastiness that you usually only find between siblings. Strangers could never hate each other so much. Only siblings.
Now, what if Jesus told you a story about love? To explain it, after someone else said Blah blah blah blah. So Jesus told a story to explain love, and, in Jesus’ story, it turned out to be your evil little sister—the sister who put a gerbil in your bed and itching powder in your baseball mitt; the sister who broke your X-wing Fighter model, which had taken you twelve hours to glue together—what if the Lord Jesus told you a story about love, and, in the story, your evil little sister turns out to be the hero!? In the story God tells, this evil little person actually has a heart, and sees that someone needs something, and tenderly takes care of it.
The evil, devious little sister, the sight of whom you cannot stand, who you haven’t spoken to for like two whole days, ever since she put a few drops of Tabasco sauce in your orange-juice glass: She is the heroine of the most beautiful, famous, and simple story in the entire Bible.
And she’s the heroine for one simple reason: Because she had a heart. She wasn’t distracted by other things when she saw the bleeding man. She wasn’t in such a hurry to get where she wanted to go, to do what she wanted to do. As she walked her slow and steady pace to Jericho, she wasn’t preoccupied by any grudges she was nursing. She saw the dying man, and she ran to him.
She would! She would do it, and look good! Just to spite me!
The Law of God is not far away. Because our neighbor is not far away. The Samaritan traveler saw a bleeding man a few feet away. And the Samaritan traveler was moved with compassion.
World hunger and such issues need to be addressed, no doubt. We need to study Catholic Social Teaching, sometimes in small groups. And it’s good to write our congressmen, and letters to various editors, too.
But God help me if I give a lecture to someone who really just needs a sandwich and a glass of water. Let me have more compassion than to do that. Let me have compassion like the Samaritan traveler had.
God help me if my door is shut to a soul in distress because I am busy with committee business. Let me have more compassion than that.
God save me from theorizing my way through a moment when someone just needs a listening ear and a hand to hold. May God grant us compassionate hearts.
God’s law is near to us. Very near. We do not have to go up in the sky or across the sea. In other words, inheriting eternal life does not require rocket science. We just have to find a way to love the people we live with every day, to forgive them their faults and appreciate their gifts. God will help us find a way, if we ask Him.
Jesus is not far away. Jesus shows Himself to each of us all the time. May we be moved with compassion every time He does.